Friends: I was drawn to Didi Senf´s Bicycle Museum in Storkow not so much to see the collection of eccentric bikes he has made over the years, but with hopes there might be a scrapbook or two laying around with some of his many newspaper and magazine clippings. I have been collecting them myself over the years. Each shot of him in Devil costume gallivanting alongside the peloton gives me a charge.
I need not have worried. The walls of his warehouse of a museum, fifteen feet high, were crammed from top to bottom with hundreds of articles written about him and photographs of him action, some including just his pitchfork seeming to be floating in mid-air, that he had been cropped out of when they had been published. Not all his print appearances were there though, as I didn't spot the one of he and I in "The Reader," but there was one of him from "USA Today" and papers from all over the world including China. There were quite a few cover shots, with at least three from "L'Equipe."
There were many of him running alongside Lance, but his favorite racer seemed to be Pantani. There was a whole section of a wall devoted to photos of him and Pantani, including one of Pantani, Ullrich and Riis, all Tour winners, on a podium with Didi standing in front of them and Pantani grabbing at his pitchfork.
Also hanging on the walls were various certificates from the Guinness Book of World Records giving him credit for having built the world's largest and smallest and longest bikes and the world's largest rickshaw and a few other records. The man running the museum, who looked like he might have been Didi's brother and had a bit of Didi in him, as he strolled about the museum with a pitchfork, didn't speak English, so I couldn't find out how many Guinness records he holds and which was his first.
The few articles in English were largely devoted to his career as The Devil, only marginally mentioning his accomplishments as an inventor. He made his first appearance as The Devil in 1993, when he was 41-years old, at a mountain stage of The Tour de France in Andorra. One of the leading riders of the time was Claudio Chiappucci, an Italian whose nickname was "The Devil." Didi was initially taken to be a fan of his.
His actual inspiration of dressing as The Devil was the German expression for the last kilometer of a race. In The Tour there is a red inflated arch to mark the final killer kilometer when each racer must summon his last ounce of energy to get to the line before those surging all around him. The German nickname for that red arch is "The Red Devil." Didi dresses in red tights and red skull cap with horns and a red cape. He usually stations himself towards the end of a stage reminding the racers that "The Red Devil" is nigh.
Before perusing the walls I watched an eighteen-minute video of some of his TV appearances, some just quick snippets of him from races, but mostly longer clips from appearances on TV talk shows in Japan, Italy, Holland and elsewhere where he gave a demonstration of his bikes. Some were in studio and others were at his museum. Many of the clips showed him riding a bicycle he'd built with a lawn mover as the front wheel so one could pedal and cut one´s lawn. There were also a couple of odd-ball two-person bikes, one with two people in the prone position, one on top and one below facing each other. As they pedaled they bobbed up and down making it appear as if they were procreating.
He had several sport-themed bikes. One with eight-foot high wheels had soccer balls embedded all around the rim. It was dedicated to the 1996 World Cup. Another bicycle was embedded with a couple hundred hockey pucks. And there was a bike with skis on it.
Amongst all the clips and bikes were also souvenirs collected from The Tour de France, many of which I have in my own collection--course markers and water bottles and caravan giveaways. The museum had me smiling broadly from the moment I stepped inside. I was surprised there were no signs to it in Stockrow, a town of 6,000 people. There was no real need for signs, though, as anyone I asked knew where it was. All I had to say was "Didi Senf," and I was pointed in the direction to his museum on the outskirts of town. There was no missing it, as his world's largest bike is outside along with a few of his other creations, including a miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa he'd welded. On the wall facing the main highway was a giant poster of him.
All through Storkow were posters advertising the appearance of a country western band Truck Stop. Storkow sits beside one of some 37 lakes in the vicinity, some with therapeutic thermal muds that draw even more people to the town than Didi. Up until 1993 the Russian Army had an R&R base on one of the lakes. Storkow is one of eight European towns with the stork in its coat of arms. I picked up a few tourist brochures that I will toss to The Devil when I ride past him in the coming weeks to let him know I paid it a visit.